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A clouded legacy.

Every year, I try to get to Shenandoah National Park at least once. It's where I grew up, and it's a place that I always return to. I am drawn by my history with this national park, as well as its rolling hills, hiking trails, and the 105-mile Skyline Drive, a perfect place to ride a bicycle with family or on my own. It's an extraordinary gift to have a national park within such easy reach of the nation's capital.

But I am increasingly wary of riding my bike on long journeys in the park, especially during the summer months. Over the past four decades, the air in Shenandoah has become increasingly dense with smog, most of it generated by coal-fired power plants. There was a time when a visitor could stand on a high point along Skyline Drive and catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument, 70 miles away. Today, a summertime visitor is lucky to see 24 miles in any direction. On some days you may not even see the next mountain ridge.

Most of us agree that the national parks should be places where we can go to enjoy the views as well as the flesh air, but increasingly this is not the case. Just a few weeks ago, NPCA released a report entitled Dark Horizons, which suggests that one in three national park units has air-pollution levels that exceed health standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Clean Air Act is supposed to prevent major polluters from degrading air quality in the parks. Under the Act, EPA and the National Park Service are empowered to prevent states from permitting new power plants whose emissions would exceed park air-pollution limits, cause haze, or harm park wildlife. Yet, the EPA has proposed regulatory changes that will make it easier to build new coal-fired power plants close to national parks.

Eight new coal-fired power plants are under active development within a 186-mile radius of Shenandoah National Park, an area that already contains dozens of coal-fired plants. And Shenandoah is not alone. Throughout the country, more than 100 new coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning and development. Dark Horizons highlights ten national parks most threatened by pollution from proposed coal-fired power plants, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Great Basin National Park. (For more details, turn to page 14 or visit www.npca.org/darkhorizons.)

The Bush Administration has staked a significant part of its environmental legacy on its stewardship of our national parks and historic monuments. The administration has recently supported significant increases in funding for the parks and has proposed an ambitious Centennial Initiative that would bring major new financial support to the National Park System by 2016. But even the best-funded national parks will not be showplaces if they suffer from haze, acid rain, and mercury-poisoned streams.

If you'd like to stop this short-sighted regulatory change and get engaged in our work to protect our national parks, visit www.npca.org/takeaction today and learn how you can help.
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Title Annotation:PRESIDENT'S OUTLOOK; Shenandoah National Park
Author:Kiernan, Thomas C.
Publication:National Parks
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Words:518
Previous Article:Gateway National Recreation Area: New York.
Next Article:Drawing the line.
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